When travelling as a tourist, there are always things cannot be translated about a place no matter how long you are visiting for. There are nuances of a place that can only be understood by those that live there in a permanent capacity. There is a kind of shared experience and existence that comes along with being part of a community as we are when we are permanent residents. In the same way, there is, I imagine, a sort of shared connection that occurs when many people of the same religious belief come together. Related to this is the idea of religious tourism, and how much a person can actually come away with from only visiting a religious site of a different religious group.
Many things can be argued about the problems with religious tourism, related to the notion that you can never fully understand something while you stand on the outside of it, but it is in my opinion that religious tourism can be a good thing. Before going further in depth into what the potential benefits are, I should explain my own definition of religious tourism. To me, religious tourism describes visiting tourist attractions that relate to a particular religion, specifically if the visitor is not a member of that particular faith. Being not a member of that faith, it is understandable that there are problems that relate to the idea of religious tourism. The main one being that it is impossible to fully understand a religion when you are not a follower of that religion. It is in my opinion, however that religious tourism helps to bridge the gap between followers of different religions.
While it is hard to grasp the full intention behind another religion, it is helpful, in my opinion, to experience what part of the religion that you can as its followers do. Just reading or being lectured about a particular religion, it is impossible to get a clear picture. While you may be learning the basics of their beliefs, it can be very disconnecting to look at it this way. It feels almost like looking at it clinically and dissecting and simplifying to look at the main parts. It is, for this reason, that it is incredible advantageous to visit the religious sites that are relative to the various religions that you might be studying or just learning about in general.
By visiting these religious sites and experiencing the architecture and decoration of the places, while also being around believers of that religion worshipping and sharing their beliefs comfortably and in their own element, it is easier to feel a sense of connection to these other people. It is easier to see the whole picture of their beliefs and what it might mean to them, in context.
Being a non-religious person, I can especially relate to how difficult it can sometimes be to attempt to understand another’s beliefs when you do not share them or anything like them. It can be strange and you can feel alienated by it, but it is for this reason that visiting religious sites has always been helpful to me. It is hard for me to think of believing many things very strongly on faith alone, but when I visit religious places and see these other people and what it is like for them to be celebrating their faith in various capacities, it becomes much easier for me to understand the appeal. In all, the argument can always be made that you can never fully understand another religion when you are looking from the outside inwards, but it is my opinion that visiting other religious sites and, by expansion, religious tourism as a whole is a very beneficial first step to truly comprehending the beliefs and views of another group of people.